Graham Rahal completed a near-perfect Verizon IndyCar Series weekend with another dominating performance on Sunday to finish off a sweep of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear doubleheader.
Rahal, in the No.15 SoldierStrong / TurnsForTroops.com Honda, survived a two-lap dash to the checkered flag, holding off Team Penske's Josef Newgarden by 1.1772 seconds to back up his victory Saturday on the Raceway at Belle Isle Park's temporary street course. The Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver becomes the first driver to sweep a Verizon IndyCar Series doubleheader weekend since Scott Dixon won both races on the streets of Toronto in 2013.
"All around just a spectacular weekend for us," said Rahal, whose win was the sixth of his 11-year Indy car career and the 25th for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. It's the first time the team has won consecutive races since Kenny Brack accomplished the feat in 2001 at Twin Ring Motegi and the Milwaukee Mile.
With the two triumphs, Rahal vaulted nine spots in the championship standings, to sixth place after eight of 17 races. The 28-year-old Ohioan won from the third starting position and becomes the first driver to win two Verizon IndyCar Series races this season.
"I could run a really strong pace, better than most guys, while saving a ton of fuel," Rahal said. "That's why I say, these weekends, they just don't happen that often. We're the first one to win the double (at Belle Isle). It feels great. Any day you can beat a Penske driver, it means a lot."
Rahal led 41 of the 70 laps on the 2.35-mile, 14-turn circuit that has hosted 24 Indy car races since 1992. The race ran caution-free until James Hinchcliffe's No.5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda stopped on course on Lap 66. As the remaining cars packed up behind the pace car, Spencer Pigot's No. 20 Fuzzy's Vodka Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet pulled off with smoke trailing from the rear.
"The car just lost power coming across the start/finish line." said Pigot "I don't know exactly what happened, and it didn't cost us a great finish, but it is a shame. Our races this year have been really good, this is the first weekend where we have struggled. It's something we'll try to learn from and make sure it doesn't happen again. The Fuzzy's Vodka guys have already had a long few weeks, now they have another problem to fix. Hopefully the No. 20 car can rebound next weekend at Texas and myself at Road America."
INDYCAR officials red-flagged the race, bringing all cars to a stop in the pits at the conclusion of Lap 67 to give track workers time to clean up both incident areas. Once engines were restarted, the green flag waved at the end of Lap 68 and Rahal pulled away from Newgarden, the driver of the No.2 hum by Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet.
"I think we were all just trying to get to the end there," said Newgarden, who started 13th but took advantage of a three-pit-stop strategy to move forward. "It was two (laps) to go and we had marbles all over the tires. In that type of situation, there's not much you can do, unfortunately. I was hoping Graham was going to make a big mistake because then I would try and capitalize.
"I'll be honest, I think we were all just trying to get to the end." said Newgarden "There were just two laps to go and we had marbles all over the tires. In that type situation, there's not much you can do. You want to say you'd be able to go race this guy and try to beat him. And I would have done that if he messed up; if he made a mistake, I would try to capitalize. But if everyone stays steady, we are just trying to hold on to the race car. It's very difficult to do that at the end. When it's your weekend, it's your weekend. (Race-winner Graham) Rahal did a great job. It's a good bounce back for us at Team Penske in the hum by Verizon Chevrolet. It's good to be in Detroit. Thanks to all the fans that came out and Chevrolet for all they do. It's fun to be in this city. I was trying to get Chevrolet that win but just didn't have enough today."
Will Power finished third in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet to give team owner and Belle Isle race promoter Roger Penske two drivers on the podium.
"Yesterday was just unlucky when the yellow came." said Power "We kind of went halfway between a two-stop and a three-stop. We went longer than the three-stop guys. I was saving so much fuel yesterday that I was too slow. The guys did a great job with the strategy today. I'm very happy with third. Today was much more representative of the car we had this weekend. Thanks to all of the guys, Verizon and Chevrolet."
Pole sitter and reigning Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato, who set a track record in winning the Verizon P1 Award in morning qualifying, led 22 laps but finished fourth in the No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda.
"It was a solid result." said Sato "I think the team did a great job. We did everything we could and made no mistakes, but we just didn't quite have the speed today. I'm proud of getting on the front row in qualifying and we will work hard the rest of the season. I think we kept ourselves in championship contention by finishing P4 and getting points. We need to find out why we lost the speed for the race but we will look at all the data. It was a good day."
Scott Dixon placed sixth in the No. 9 Camping World Honda and the four-time series champion retained the points lead he grabbed Saturday. Dixon has 303 points, eight more than Helio Castroneves and 11 more than Sato.
"The problem on the pit stop really hurt us today." said Dixon "I think there was a problem with the fuel probe and normally we're really good in that area. That issue just cost us some crucial time and we tried to play catch up after that. I think (Josef) Newgarden finished second and we were ahead of him before that. It was unfortunate how it played out, but all-in-all a decent points today considering."
Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix officials estimated the event's three-day attendance at 100,000, up about 5,000 from 2016.
The Verizon IndyCar Series returns to Texas Motor Speedway for the Rainguard Water Sealers 600 on June 10, where Rahal is the defending champion. Live coverage starts on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network at 8 p.m. ET.
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